Hapoel Beersheba striker Elyaniv Barda is hoisted in the air by his teammates after playing his final match for the side on Monday night.
(photo credit: DANNY MARON)
The preparations for the 2018/19 Premier League season got into full swing on Tuesday after teams played their final matches of the 2017/18 campaign on Monday.
It was a night packed with departures, the highlights of which were Elyaniv Barda playing his final match at Hapoel Beersheba and Jordi Cruyff coaching Maccabi Tel Aviv for the last time.
Barda hadn’t played since mid-November after requiring treatment with a defibrillator following his collapse during a training session.
The 36-year-old was told by doctors that he wouldn’t be able to resume his career at full pace, but was given special permission to play for a few minutes on Monday, and he came on in the 89th minute of the 6-1 win over Maccabi Netanya. He was also honored with a special ceremony ahead of the match.
“I hardly slept over the last week,” admitted an emotional Barda, who will remain at the club in a yet to be determined role. “I couldn’t believe the amazing sendoff I was given by the fans.”
After celebrating becoming just the third team in the past 55 years to win three consecutive championships, Beersheba can turn its focus to qualifying for the Champions League group stage for the first time.
The team’s route to the group stage is set to be more difficult in 2018/19 due to the changes made by UEFA to the qualifying format.
Beersheba will have to already start from the first qualifying round, rather than the second the way it did last season. Hapoel could also already face strong sides of the likes of Scotland’s Celtic and Austria’s Red Bull Salzburg in the second qualifying round and will have to get through four rounds in all to progress to the group stage.
Beersheba’s squad is expected to undergo several changes, with its first goal being to strengthen its Israeli core.
Hapoel Haifa striker Alon Turgeman and Beitar Jerusalem midfielder Hen Ezra are two of the players being targeted by Barak Bachar’s team.
Cruyff joined Maccabi as a sports director six years ago, taking charge as the team’s head coach in the past season. Maccabi won three consecutive championships in his first three seasons at the club, but finished in second place for a third straight year after Monday’s 2-0 win over Bnei Yehuda.
Serbian Vladimir Ivic is expected to be announced as Cruyff’s replacement and he has reportedly already given his approval to sign striker Itay Shechter, who is out of contract after an impressive season at Beitar Jerusalem.
“It’s always been a pleasure and I’ve always felt at home here and people have treated me exceptionally well,” said Cruyff on Monday.
“That’s probably one of the reasons I’ve been here six years. I’ve enjoyed the ride, both the difficult moments and the happier ones; that’s part of football. I feel very grateful as to the way I was treated here and I thank everybody for that.”